by Jerry Rothwell
Director of Town of Runners
Town of Runners is a documentary about Ethiopian runners who hope to change their lives by becoming professional athletes. The film is set in Bekoji, Ethiopia, a small remote town in the Southern Highlands known for producing some of the world’s greatest runners, largely due to the dedication of Coach Sentayehu Eshetu. The ITVS-funded documentary by Jerry Rothwell premieres Sunday, June 17 on Global Voices on the WORLD Channel.
Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell in Bekoji
We finished shooting Town of Runners during Spring 2011 and in November of that year, I took a rough cut of the film back to Ethiopia to view it with Coach Sentayehu, Hawii, Alemi, Biruk, and their families. For Alemi’s mother, it was the first time she’d seen her daughter run, and the film gave Hawii’s family a sense of the struggles she’d had over the past few years in the running clubs.
Since the film ended, Hawii’s second club, Assela, had managed to find its way out of its financial difficulties. Hawii rejoined it, regained her fitness, and has been competing and doing well in races across the Oromia region.
Alemi, meanwhile, decided she wanted to leave her club in Holeta and return home to Bekoji once her two-year contract was up. She came home to live with her parents and began training once again with Coach Sentayehu. It was a chance for her to pick up her education after a two-year break.
Bethlehem (Betty) and Freya, the two girls who went with Hawii to the club in Woliso, finally ran away and returned to Bekoji. By the time they left, they said 50 of the club’s 52 athletes had done the same due to the lack of facilities and training. Meanwhile, Bekoji had managed to establish its own club, with the help of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation and Betty won a place there. Freya has given up athletics and has returned to school in Bekoji. Continue reading